Friday, January 11, 2013

Betsey Johnson's Comeback - Why Full-figured Girls Should Care

Back in February when Betsey Johnson filed for bankruptcy and closed down all 63 stores the internet exploded. Where would all the kitsch-loving retro-inspired fashion bloggers buy their cupcake dresses and rhinestone cat necklaces? As a fan of the brand for years I have amassed a sizable collection of Betsey Johnson necklaces, bracelets, shoes and bags. As a full-figured girl I was dismayed at the lack of sizes in her clothes--all her stuff only went up to a junior's size large, her bras only to a modest C-cup, some dresses went up to a very slender size 12. When Betsey Johnson stores closed down I did not weep, the one and only time I was in one the only clothes on the sales floor were in sizes 0, 2, and 4--if you wanted a larger size the salesgirl would have to pull it from the back. As someone who works in retail I know these decisions are not arbitrary, Betsey Johnson LLC was clearly sending a message to women everywhere: they don't want chubby women to wear their clothes.  The brand was tailored to Betsey-clones with skinny bodies, small frames, and preferably blonde hair. Girls like me could only stand outside peering through the frost-crusted window into a warm world full of pink tulle, roses, glitter, and lace.

See this dress? It's authentic from the 1950's but there is only one.

This is Betsey Johnson's Tea Party dress. She made it every season in a  new color, just not in my size. 

While Betsey Johnson LLC tanked my local Macy's still carried the jewelry and handbags. Before the announcement of the bankruptcy Betsey fans may have noticed a steep price drop in the brand's shoes and handbags, that's because the accessory part of the brand was sold to Steve Madden in 2010. Steve Madden scaled back the brand considerably and a few months after the bankruptcy announcement the Betsey website was up and running again, minus the clothes. Betsey herself blamed corporate structure and the "stores [that] started knocking off my $250 prom dresses for $49.” I find the statements by the designer very short-sighted when it comes to the changing climate of American retail and the shifting attitudes of the American buyer. Women interested in Betsey's clothes could afford her dresses in the failing economy if only the garments fit and flattered a more mature body, as one analyst said "the younger women that buy her don’t even have jobs anymore, let alone income.” In other words the American women with buying power are not young, rich, AND skinny anymore (arguably the BJ-trifecta necessary to wear her clothes.)

Send in the Betsey clones! Young, rich and skinny only please!

Lucky for us ladies with meat on our bones Steve Madden acknowledges this shift in the buyer's market and will be resurrecting the clothing brand in Macy's and Nordstrom stores. “ 'They’ll be young in spirit like Betsey is, but accessible for women up to 40 years old,' said Lisa Andriulli, a vice president of Macy’s. [She] added that the dresses have classic Johnson touches like fun prints and petticoats, but are sized more generously." Hopefully this means more wearable clothes for a wider variety of women that will still retain that retro aesthetic and young party-girl sensibility. However this is not the first time Betsey has promised diversity in her clothing line only to release Pink Patch in the same old tired junior sizes. Hopefully under the influence of a successful mass-market retailer like Steve Madden Betsey Johnson's resurrection will mean I can finally buy her iconic Marilyn sweater in a misses size large or extra-large and a tea party dress in a proper size 14. 

1 comment:

  1. Alleluia! I have been after a B J's tea party dress in a true UK 14 (or around 32 inches waist) without any success so far. Besides this type of design is rather flattering on fuller figures so I always found the fact that it was never released in larger sizes rather puzzling. Anyway, great article!